The three biscuit trends you need to know this year

04 June 2024, 06:00 AM
  • Whether a dunker for tea, or something savoury to add crunch to Cheddar, consumer desire for biscuits will never fade, say industry insiders
The three biscuit trends you need to know this year

Ah. The Great British biscuit. Nothing quite beats it. Particularly if it’s presented in a dented, familial tin. The kind that’s been passed through the generations, landing on the table in the afternoons, on the lap at Christmastime, and in the middle of the blanket with a flask of something warming during picnics.

There’s a cosiness to the idea of a biscuit – whether sweet or savoury. One that makes most people come over all rose-tinted and nostalgic. And that, say makers and retailers, is what keeps shoppers coming back for more.

According to Mintel’s 2023 report, volume sales of sweet biscuits were up 1.5% last year, despite cost-of-living pressures and the introduction of HFSS product location restrictions. Researchers pointed to their appeal as an affordable treat as a leading reason for the rise, with traditional flavours leading the way, alongside a desire for what it calls ‘safe adventure’. “While new flavours sway only a fifth of buyers,” Mintel says, “seasonal/limited edition biscuits prompt over half of buyers of sweet biscuits to purchase more overall.” This “reaffirms limited edition variants as a valuable vehicle for brands to drive engagement.”

Trends leading in sweet biscuits include personalisation, nostalgia and healthier options – particularly in light of ongoing research into (and mainstream chatter about) ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

On the less sweet side of the table, Mintel’s 2023 Savoury Biscuits report demonstrates these products are most often eaten with cheese (60%) but that slowing sales (down against 2020 record levels) demonstrate a need for brands to invest in NPD and innovation that re-energises the market. Certainly, there’s the opportunity to make a huge impact here as 69% of those who snack on savoury biscuits do so every day.

An area of growth for savoury biscuits

Tudor Evans, senior category manager at Holleys Fine Foods agrees with the data, but says he’s already seeing change within the savoury category with “brands constantly evolving their ranges and pushing the boundaries in terms of new taste combinations in oatcakes, crackers and wafers.

“Traditional brands like Nairn’s have introduced a Marmite and Cheese Oatcake – a match that will always find favour with our customer base.”

Steve Monk of the Good Guys Bakehouse thinks more certainly needs to be done to shake up the savoury biscuit aisle, saying he hasn’t seen much real focus from market leaders in the category for many years. 

“I can’t think of any significant NPD launched recently,” Steve explains. “Which is a shame, because savoury biscuits is a brilliant category, worth half a billion pounds.” Steve believes the category has been neglected because it is “ageing”, adding it’s ripe for rejuvenation, which could inspire a whole new generation of shoppers. “We are one of the very very few brands that are over-indexing on younger, health-conscious shoppers,” he adds.

The Good Guys Bakehouse produces light, savoury wafer biscuits that pack a punch of flavour, at only five calories each. “Savoury biscuits seem to be wholesome, permissible and healthy, but savoury snack biscuits tend not to be healthy at all,” Steve reflects. “They are usually high in fat and calories, so we thought ‘let’s make a product we can bring to market that offers something different’.”

The brand bakes with natural ingredients “and we don’t have to spray on oils and flavourings, so they are much lower in fat and calories. People want something lighter. They are putting rice cakes in their basket, and looking across to see if anything else is available. They want products for those ‘light grazing moments’ on the sofa.”

Nostalgia rules the sweet biscuit category

“Making moments and spending time together is what biscuits are about,” says Debbie Hammonds, commercial director at Farmhouse Biscuits. Nostalgia is absolutely key for the brand. “People buy our products because they remind them of going to their grandma’s house and having tea and a nice treat. We find nostalgic themed products do really well for us.”

The bestseller by a country mile is Farmhouse Biscuits’ Oat Flips – a recipe that goes back three generations within the Farmhouse family. “We’re always talking about taking that inspiration from the past, but having modern creativity too,” adds Debbie. “It’s important to keep those classic flavours.”

Farmhouse Biscuits conducts a lot of research with customers, who say biscuits are the sweet treat that resonates with them most. “Choosing a quality biscuit is that little extra indulgence,” says Debbie. “We talk about it being that cherished gift, making memorable moments, whether with old classics, or something new.”

What sets a good biscuit apart is attention to detail throughout the process, she continues, adding that the brand’s products are “labour intensive and artisan. Everything is hand weighed and hand packed. It means we can maintain quality all the way through.”

Apart from Oat Flips, the team are currently seeing good uptake in flavours from Farmhouse Biscuits’ English Garden range, such as Strawberry & Clotted Cream, and Honey & Oats.

New Christmas products are now open for orders, available (as is the entirety of the Farmhouse Biscuits collection) in a range of formats including luxury gifting tins, and at multiple price points to make the Great British biscuit tradition as accessible as it can be, to as many people as possible.

Tudor agrees that traditional biscuits are worth investing in, saying sweet biscuits is a key category for its largest customer groups. “Farmhouse Biscuits and Walkers Shortbread continue to do well,” he says, adding that Holleys’ exclusive brands, including Bakewell and Browne, and Oui Love it! have grown in popularity too. 

Natural, sustainable and healthy matter to consumers

Organic products are going from strength to strength, with sales driven not only by the sustainability and ethics involved, but the fact that organic food and drink is regulated, and rarely (if ever) ultra processed. 

Dawn Reade of Island Bakery has certainly seen an increase in sales, especially for the brand’s Lemon Melts, but with the Orange Melts coming in a close second as citrussy flavours make an impact.

What makes a great biscuit in Dawn’s eyes, though is that it’s “got to have chocolate on it”.

A chocolate biscuit, Dawn says “is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s something delightful you can immediately give to guests with a nice cup of tea or coffee, without spending a morning baking!”

Customers love that Island Bakery products are organic, sustainable, and as close to home made as possible. “Being organic rules out artificial flavours and colourings, and ties in with people who are looking for more natural products,” Dawn suggests. “They can taste the difference. The real lemon oil from the peel, real stem ginger in the ginger biscuits, real pieces of apple in the Apple Crumbles. Obviously they are all-butter recipes too. You can really taste the butter.”

Dawn says the world of gluten-free biscuits has also opened the team’s eyes, following the launch of the Sweet FA brand, dreamt up by one of their longest serving employees, Fiona Aitali.

“She joined us 30 years ago. Fiona is an amazingly good baker, and had been unwell for a while,” Dawn explains. “Eventually she was diagnosed as a coeliac. It was a real shock for her because she loves baking. When she wasn’t at work, she was baking for friends and family.” Fiona was “gutted”, wondering if she would ever be able to set foot in the bakery again, but approached Dawn, to see if she’d be up for her developing a gluten-free range. “She had the idea of calling it Sweet FA based on her initials,” Dawn laughs, adding, “and it sounds a bit cheeky too!”

Many, many recipes and formulations were trialled, with a key mandate that the finished products shouldn’t be sandy or gritty – something Dawn hates. “So often these biscuits will taste nice, but you’re left with a sandy texture, usually because of rice flour.”

The Sweet FA range had to be “biscuits even people who aren’t coeliac or gluten intolerant could enjoy…not second best!”

Made with tapioca and gluten-free oats, and dairy and palm oil free as well as organic, Sweet FA products have made steady progress in the three years since launching, demonstrating, says Dawn, a real desire for exceptional products that ‘taste like the real thing’ in this category.

Matthew Chiles of Gourmet Partners, which supplies Olina’s products into the UK fine food arena, says gluten free is a category to watch in sweet and savoury biscuits, with “staggering growth” reported via analysts, despite only one in 100 people in Britain having coeliac disease, according to Mordor Intelligence.

“We are seeing a huge spike in sales of our Simply Seed range – a nutritious combination of linseeds, sunflower kernels, pumpkin seeds and black and white sesame seeds,” says Matthew, adding that there “seems to be an overlap, as consumers without underlying health issues, or with keto diets, are just enjoying the idea of snacks that taste great and are made from healthier ingredients.”

Gourmet Partners’ own data confirms its Simply Seed Pumpkin Flatbreads are now outselling all other products, including the core range and popular Seeded Toasts and Wafer Crackers.

Olina’s Seeded Snackers are making waves too. “Even consumers who would not normally seek out seed-based products are delighted by the taste of our Roasted Beetroot, or Caramelised Onion and Balsamic Vinegar, bite-sized snack products. In fact, as a business it’s been difficult to keep up with demand for these. But that’s a good problem to have!”

Naturally, seeded crackers, which are loaded with fibre and nutrients, appeal to the gut-health set too. 

Alongside gluten free, another area of potential growth in biscuits is lower sugar, or sugar free. Alex Brassill, founder of JNCK Bakery, says although the sweet biscuit category is growing year-on-year, it’s still behind on other sectors from a health innovation perspective, and he believes it’s remained “relatively stagnant” despite desire from consumers to reduce their sugar intake.

There’s plenty of room, Alex says, for sweet biscuit makers to capitalise on the demand for reduced sugar options, whether that’s reformulating recipes, creating new, lower sugar recipes, or even considering formats for portion control.

As a child, Alex loved the gooey cookies at school but, even then, recognised they were unhealthy, filling the paper bags they arrived in with grease. “I always wanted to replicate those cookies in taste, without all the bad stuff – hench the launch of JNCK Bakery.”

Alex’s products have been rated HFSS compliant, containing 90% less sugar and 50% less saturated fat than the average competitor. 

“What’s more, we’ve added good stuff. Three times more protein, and five times more fibre than other cookies. We’ve used ingredients such as pea protein for satiation, prebiotic fibre for gut health, and a bespoke, low sugar, protein chocolate.”

Alex says now is the time for retailers to sit up and take notice of the amount of sugar on their shelves. “Recent government legislation means that high losses are predicted in HFSS categories, with biscuit snacks predicted to be the second worst hit,” he adds. “As more awareness of health continues amongst consumers, retailers and foodservice outlets will have to adapt to selling, and listing and marketing will need to shift to follow rules around what can and can’t be promoted.”

Alex says retailers should be prioritising healthier biscuits “in the way they already do in other sectors”, adding he hopes they are increasingly seen not as a ‘niche’ offering or a ‘compromise’, but as “food items that have been created to be indulgent, while still being good for you”.

Baking at home is on the rise

Reshmi Bennett of Anges de Sucre says pistachio is the flavour that’s popping in 2024, but adds a trend that shouldn’t be ignored is home baking – especially when it comes to cookies.

The bakery sells its hero cookie recipe online, with dozens of downloads purchased every week. She puts this down to a real interest in experimenting in the home kitchen, and a response to the cost-of-living crisis. “My cookies are New York style. If you were to buy them out and about, each one would generally set you back £4 to £5 in a shop. You can make a batch of 12 at home for around £12.”

Biscuit baking kits or ‘bake at home’ doughs are “seriously worth investing in”, Reshmi says.

Personalised biscuits becoming mainstream

Printed and personalised biscuits are taking off in a big way, says Katrin Hoffman of DTM, which has seen hot demand for its Eddie Edible Ink Printer. The printer (the only one certified for use in a food environment) is being snapped up not just by hobbyists, but by cake and biscuit decorators, cafes, hotels and franchises.

“They’re seeing high demand for bespoke and personalised products for corporate events and private occasions such as anniversaries, weddings and christenings,” Katrin explains. “What we realised is, personalisation can help brands make a strong connection with their customers. If there’s something that has your name on it, it builds that connection.”

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